Urgent action is needed to target child sexual exploitation in Devon, according to a damning new report.
While there is no intelligence to suggest organised child sexual exploitation networks are operating in the county, child exploitation is still likely to be happening in the on a daily basis.
And according to the study by a task group from Devon County Council’s People Scrutiny Committee, neither the police nor the county council currently hold enough information on the issue to take effective preventative action.
Task group chairman, Sara Randall-Johnson, said: “The prevalence of child sexual exploitation in the county is difficult to gauge given the lack of information Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, the county council and multi-agencies appear to hold on the issue.”
“Perpetrators come from any age group, sex, nationality, creed and ethnic background. Some operate alone and others in gangs. We must not forget boys are also targeted and subject to abuse,” she said.
“Social media is a very powerful tool and its rapid popularity provides the criminal with easy access to groom a child in the home without the knowledge of parents.
“Recognising the warning signs is a challenge as children are exploited in different ways.”
Ms Randall-Johnson said the county council must take the lead in increasing public understanding and awareness of the sexual exploitation of Devon’s 140,000 young people.
The report contains a series of hard-hitting recommendations.
It calls for an urgent new database to be set up to record and map instances of child exploitation so that prevention work can be targeted in ‘hot-spots’.
The other main recommendations of the report are:
• Police and social care should raise awareness on child sexual exploitation with district, city, borough councils, housing associations and businesses to protect children from harm
• Child sexual exploitation should be declared a priority Public Health issue like smoking or obesity to enable a more strategic approach to be developed to child sexual exploitation
• Training on child sexual exploitation be given to all frontline staff including social workers, family practitioners, housing and licensing officers, all members and council officers and all businesses – particularly those which provide services where people socialise
• That the county council reference child sexual exploitation on its website and include prominent links to useful organisations
• That in addition to Ofsted inspections, there are spot checks on children’s homes to ensure they are following government guidance to inform the police and county council when a child moves into their home who is at risk of child sexual exploitation
• That all Devon & Cornwall police officers, police community support officers and specials receive child sexual exploitation training to improve the identification and the Force response to this threat
• That there is rigorous monitoring of the Babcock LDP contract in terms of its programme to schools educating young people on the risk and threat of child sexual exploitation
• That a strategy be implemented to identify those children at risk of child sexual exploitation who are outside the social care system
“It may be difficult for parents, carers and frontline practitioners to differentiate between ordinary teenage behaviour and the risk of involvement in sexual exploitation,” added Ms Randall-Johnson.
“However, there are some signs that may signify that children or young people are at risk of being groomed for sexual exploitation or may already being exploited:
“All the public sector representatives acknowledged that too often their involvement started after the crime has been committed and more prevention work needs to be developed,” she added.